The Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday in Minneapolis that it won't permanently block the NFL from suspending Vikings defensive tackles Kevin Williams and Pat Williams for violating the league's anti-doping policy.
Barring another appeal, the ruling appears to clear the way for the NFL to suspend the players, which it has been trying to do since the Williamses tested positive for a banned diuretic in 2008. The players have been fighting their suspensions and could appeal this latest decision to the state Supreme Court.
|Vikings defensive linemen Pat Williams (left) and Kevin Williams should serve their four-game suspensions for violating the NFL's anti-doping policy, a Minnesota appeals court ruled Tuesday. (Bruce Kluckhohn/US Presswire)|
Peter Ginsberg, an attorney for the Williamses, said Tuesday he hadn't talked to his clients and wasn't sure whether or not they would seek another appeal.
Pat Williams' agent, Angelo Wright, didn't know if his client would appeal. But the lineman told the St. Paul Pioneer Press "I just want it to be over."
"If I lose, I lose," Pat Williams said. "I'm not mad at anybody. Right now, I want it to be over because it's cost me so much money, close to $1 million (in legal fees). It ain't cheap."
NFL spokesman Greg Aiello issued the following statement via Twitter: "We are pleased that the Minnesota Court of Appeals, like all other federal & state courts to hear the matter, has unanimously upheld the structure & operation of the NFL's collectively bargained Policy on Steroids & Related Substances. Today's opinion confirms the testing program did not violate Minnesota state law & vindicates the policy & procedures of the program. We are in the process of reviewing the decision and determining our next steps."
The Williamses, who aren't related, tested positive in 2008 for bumetanide, a banned diuretic that can mask the presence of steroids that was in the StarCaps weight-loss supplement they were taking. The Williamses weren't accused of taking steroids and said they didn't know the diuretic was in the supplement.
The players sued the NFL in state court, saying the league violated state labor law. Their suspensions have been on hold while the case has played out in state and federal courts.
Last May, Hennepin County District Judge Gary Larson ruled the NFL broke state law when it failed to notify the Williamses of their positive test results within the mandated three days. But the judge also declined to permanently block the NFL from suspending the players, saying the Williamses weren't harmed by the notification delays.
The players appealed, asking that the suspensions be permanently blocked.
A three-judge panel of the appeals court affirmed the lower court's decision to deny permanent relief from the suspensions -- but had different reasons for its decision. The appeals court ruled that bumetanide isn't defined as a drug under state law, so the NFL wasn't required to tell the players of its presence in the drug tests.
According to the court's 11-page decision, the Williamses provided urine samples for drug testing during their annual physical exams in 2008. The samples for each player were divided into separate bottles for testing purposes. Once an initial test read positive for bumetanide, the other samples were tested to confirm the presence of the diuretic.
The appeals court ruled that since the purpose of those confirmatory tests was solely to detect the presence of bumetanide -- which state law doesn't define as a drug -- there is no legal basis for the court to find that the NFL violated the state's notification requirements.
"Accordingly, although we do not agree with the district court's interpretation of (state law), we nevertheless affirm its order denying injunctive relief," the appeals court ruled.
Ginsberg said the court ruled the NFL has to follow the law, but since it was testing for bumetanide, the restrictions of the law don't apply to his clients.
"The NFL has again sort of lost the war but won the battle," said Ginsberg, who added that he hopes the union takes a more proactive role in fashioning a better drug-testing policy in future contract negotiations with the NFL.
Pat Williams, the oldest defensive player in the NFL last season at 38, finished a three-year contract and will be a free agent next season. The Vikings aren't expected to re-sign him. The three-time Pro Bowl pick has seen his production and playing time decrease the past few seasons.
Kevin Williams, 30 also is coming off a substandard season, with a career-low one sack. His agent didn't immediately return a phone message left Tuesday
The NFL had argued its anti-doping policy was a product of its collective bargaining agreement with the players' union and was governed by federal labor law, which should trump state laws.
The case was watched by other major sports leagues -- including the MLB, NBA and NHL -- which supported the NFL and contended their drug-testing programs would be at risk if players were allowed to challenge drug-testing policies in different state courts.
Defensive end Will Smith and former New Orleans Saints teammate Charles Grant tested positive for the same substance, but they weren't involved in the Minnesota lawsuit. The NFL has held off on enforcing their four-game suspensions until the Minnesota case is resolved. Grant is a free agent.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.